An exploration into the implications of the ‘compensation culture’ on construction safety

In UK society there has been a growing perception that unjustified, frivolous or fraudulent legal claims are being made following safety accidents or incidents, in what has become known as a ‘compensation culture’. Participant observation of construction practice during a three year period enabled the unpacking of the complexity of the compensation culture as manifested on a large construction project (+£500 m) in the UK, and revealed associated implications for safety management. The wider social perception a compensation culture exists in UK society was also found to being the case in the more narrow setting of this construction site, as making fraudulent compensation claims against their own organisations was a socially acceptable behaviour within some front-line workgroups. The organisation recognised this and took numerous steps to protect themselves from potential liability; which was unhelpful for safety, as actions were more about managing potential claims, than managing safety. This study demonstrates that the way H&S is viewed in a wider social context can influence the way H&S is managed in organisations, has provided deeper socio-cultural understanding into the complexity of safety practices, and raises important questions about our research approaches, which have traditionally focused in positivist roots, and have been unable to holistically capture social aspects that influence safety.